Recap: On April 9 allegations arose that Bangladesh Chhatra League's Kabi Sufia Kamal Hall president Iffat Jahan Isha was torturing quota demonstrators inside her room. The general students brought her out of her room and made her publicly apologise while wearing a garland of shoes. Isha was subsequently expelled by both the BCL and University of Dhaka, only to be reinstated three days later. On the night of April 20, three students were handed over to their guardians because of their role in coercing Isha to confront the general students. Star Weekend takes a look at how BCL treats students in Sufia Kamal Hall.
Her Facebook inbox is now flooded with rape threats. One sender called her a pig and said she should've been raped when she was still a baby in her mother's lap. Another, a Bangladesh Chhatra League member of Sreepur named Shajib Hassan, insinuated that she should sell herself to men. Yet another BCL man from Sylhet called Abu Taher Juned asked her whether she would have sex with him for Tk 200-250. A Qatar-based BCL man called Syed Shupon Augustia Mizan threatened to rape her mother. A Jubo League member from Companiganj called Main Uddin Ujjol threatened to rape her.
And these are just the people directly messaging her. Her photo and the link to her Facebook profile is being freely distributed by BCL activists online with messages like “Get this girl” and “Arrest her”, and, of course, rape threats.
All of this was sent to a female student from Kabi Sufia Kamal Hall following the series of incidents that happened over the last two weeks. The student had been one of many who had supported the ousting of the BCL president of her dormitory, Iffat Jahan Isha. “We have shown how to protest against those who oppress us,” she had written on her Facebook profile.
“I am constantly afraid that I am being followed,” she says, sharing screenshots of the abusive messages with Star Weekend while sitting in a corner of the long porches inside the Teacher-Student Center. “A friend of mine who is affiliated with BCL sent me this message warning me to be careful because the political students are looking for a chance to harm me,” she adds, extending out another screenshot.
By now most people know about the drama that unfolded in the Kabi Sufia Kamal Hall of the University of Dhaka. A girl was injured, and another—the BCL president of the dormitory—was expelled from the university and then brought back in again; and then three more girls who had demanded the president be removed were first thrown out of the dorm and then taken in again. The university authorities and some political factions are dismissing it as a girls' “hostel-based scuffle” that does not warrant the amount of national attention it is getting. The hate speech in the Facebook interactions described above however indicate otherwise.
This is an incident where a certain faction of students were once again reassured that they will remain armed with the power to treat general students however they want. When a BCL leader is almost punished for oppressing girls, but then comes back from the brink of her fall, guns blazing, it conveys the message that political appointees matter more to the authorities than general students.
“The day BCL hall president Isha was brought back wearing garlands of marigolds, the general students of the dormitory started leaving out of fear that she would now retaliate,” says Eity Jahan, a resident of Kabi Sufia Kamal Hall. “I went to the Provost to tell her that the girls are scared but she did not believe me.”
“The students dragged Isha downstairs to publicly apologise because they were tired of her abuse,” adds the student this correspondent was talking with. “Interestingly enough, Isha was brought out of her room by junior BCL supporters, not the general residents. This is because, as the head of the political unit, she would haze them however she wanted and they had to tolerate it for fear of losing their dormitory seat.”
There is ample available literature detailing how first-year students have to curry favour with political figureheads inside dormitories to even get a foot in. The political bullies place them in rooms inside the dormitories and use them as their personal lackeys. If the students can then manage an admin-assigned allocation in a room, they are safe—otherwise they need to remain on good terms with the BCL leaders.
“Isha and the leaders made the students do their laundry, cook and clean for them,” alleges Eity Jahan. Several other students interviewed also confirmed how political leaders made other girls do their personal chores.
“Those who get a seat politically do not actually necessarily believe in BCL politics. They simply sign up as a BCL worker so as to be able to get a dormitory allocation,” says a current resident of Sufia Kamal Hall majoring in nutrition science. “My roommate's cousin, a freshman at music school, had to get in by signing up for BCL but wanted out as soon as possible. When she went to get an official dormitory allocation from the administration, they refused to help her because she was 'under' the political leaders.” Had the student managed to shift, the BCL leaders would have lost out on a foot-soldier they could coerce to do voluntary political work, she adds.
“We sleep two girls to a bed with each room having up to eight girls. They only share their room with one other roommate,” she adds.
That political leaders get wholehearted support from the administration is apparent from how Isha was treated, and how the dormitory authorities swooped down on the girls who were spearheading the students' demands to have Isha removed.
According to media reports, the Vice Chancellor Professor Akhteruzzaman justified the BCL hall unit leader's reinstatement by saying "She will not only get back her studentship, but also be rewarded” but said nothing about the allegations of hazing that students accused her of doing.
“I live on the third floor, which is the same floor as Isha. I was one of the first people to run to her room when I heard girls screaming. Isha's friends blocked the entrance but at one point we broke open the door. I went inside to see what was happening and found girls shaking and crying. They said they had been slapped, they had been whipped with a skipping rope, and made to hold their ears and do squats,” describes a student who was a first-hand witness of Isha's actions.
When the Provost of the hall Professor Sabita Rezwana Rahman was asked about whether Isha and the other political students haze their peers, she states, “No student has come up to me to file a formal complaint.” On the other hand, she was recorded on an audio clip spread online as saying, “If 2000 had attacked Isha that day then all 2000 of you will have your studentship cancelled. Whoever hit her, please write down your name.”
According to all students contacted by Star Weekend, the provost had allegedly told the students of her hall not to publicise what was going on inside. A video circulated online on the night that three girls were rusticated from the dormitory shows the guardian of one of the students telling journalists, “We have been asked not to say anything about this,” while the student tried to hide her face, visibly flustered.
When asked about whether hall authorities are trying to keep students quiet, Provost Sabita Rahman denied it, saying instead, “I have asked them not to spread false information.”
What is true and what is false, however, seems like it is a very subjective matter in this political climate inside the university.